Being (Nutrient) LABEL savvy!

Reading Food/Nutrition Labels

Reading Food/Nutrition Labels

A lot of times I am asked, ‘what is healthy food’? I often answer, all food that is NOT commercially marketed (through advertorials or otherwise) is healthy food. But the demands of our present lifestyles leave us with no choice but to use a large amount of packaged or processed foods. Gone are the days when ‘loose’ biscuits used to be bought only as an occasional treat from the neighboring bakery and consumption of bread was prohibited in many families. Today we buy almost everything prepackaged- right from the oil that we use for cooking to the cookies, breakfast cereal, daily bread and ready to eat foods! It only makes sense to be well informed about what all goes in the making of the foods that we are eating everyday and also how it affects our health.

Quite often the list of ingredients and nutrient contents seems quite formidable and one might not be able judge what is good or not from the jargon. It is best to pick a product by health goal e.g. if you are trying to lose weight, check the total calories and total fat; if you are diabetic, check the sugar and fat content; a product meant for children should have as little additives and refined ingredients (like refined wheat flour, sugar) as possible while for general healthy consumption by the family, any product that has more than 5 ingredients is best avoided.

Ignore the ‘front label’, read the truth at the back- Most products today come with front labels saying ‘heart healthy’, ‘fortified with vitamin A’, ‘cholesterol free’ or some similar tall health claims. A prudent shopper is one who ignores these claims and verifies the truth reading the actual contents at the back of the pack. Reading through these health benefit promises is very important. If a product says ‘multigrain’, in fact it might have only 10% of the grains and 80% refined wheat flour. Similarly, a fortified product is almost always one that has lost its nutrients due to processing and hence has ‘added synthetic nutrients’ which are of no great nutritional benefit.

Watch out for
Hidden Sugars such as fructose, dextrose, sucrose

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Partially Hydrogenated Oils – contain trans fats

Sodium nitrite and nitrate – found in processed meats

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, sachcharin, acesulfame

Artificial food color

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Check the serving size- How many of you eat a bowlful of breakfast cereals or special K in the morning? Did you know that the actual serving size is only 30 g which comes to be roughly ¾ cup? So if you thought eating a bowlful of special K with milk (no sugar) is giving you only 142 calories and 0.5 g fat, you are wrong. Not because the product is misleading you, but because you have not checked the correct serving size and the serving suggestion. If you carefully read the nutrient labeling per serving on the packet, you will realize that it is supposed to be had with skimmed milk- and no;  cow’s milk, buffalo’s milk skimmed at home does not work, as it has more fat and calories than the skimmed milk suggested.

A popular ready to serve fruit beverage with real mango pulp has a serving size of 100 ml which ends up giving you 63 calories. But if you down the entire bottle which contains 350 ml of the drink, you would end up adding 220.5 empty calories which are way more than a serving of poha or upma! Plus, how idealistic is stating 100 ml as a serving size for a drink, it is just half a glass!

Understand the ingredients- The Indian Food Code 2012 states that ingredients on a packaged food have to be listed in the ascending order of their amounts in the product. A mango fruit drink hence has water and sugar as the first two ingredients and mango pulp (single strength implying diluted) coming in third. What is worth noting here is that despite it being a fruit drink, the actual fruit pulp forms only 16% of the entire drink! Another example is that of high fiber multigrain biscuits which have refined wheat flour (maida/ all purpose flour), refined vegetable oil/fat, sugar as the first three ingredients and then somewhere come the various grain flours which would essentially amount to not more than 10% of the entire biscuit. A useful rule of thumb is, if the product has a long list of ingredients half of which you don’t know what they are, you are better off choosing another product.

Compare products- One of the benefits of shopping at the supermarket is that you have ample options to choose from. Always make sure that you have enough time on hand when you shop for groceries so that you can compare products for their prices as well as their nutrients.  This is important especially when one is trying to control sodium intake or dietary fat. Remember to compare on the basis of similar quantities – contents per 100 g or the standard serving size.

Trans Fats – World over everyone has now woken up to the dangers of consuming trans fat in foods and a lot of countries have mandated trans fat labeling. Products with trans fats must be avoided. But if at all you have a craving for cream filled cookies or cheese slices, make sure that you opt for a product that has not more than 0.1 percent trans fats, and do not exceed the serving size. The trans fats content in foods might seem very negligible, but in no time it adds up to make it a very unhealthy daily consumption of transfat.  Foods that have trans fat are almost always also high in saturated fat which is the fat to be avoided to avoid risk of cardiac diseases.

NO MSG labels- There is a reason why many instant foods or ready to eat products come with the NO MSG label. Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) is a taste enhancer which is reported to change one’s perception of taste and satiety and cause a craving for it. The Mayo Clinic, USA states that the MSG symptom complex can include headaches, numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas, flushing, sweating, chest pain, rapid heartbeats, nausea and weakness. As a result, consumers are increasingly trying to avoid products with MSG. One needs to be on the lookout for not just MSG stated as is but its other names (which have been allowed by the USFDA) such as hydrolyzed plant protein, glutamate, yeast protein, maltodextrin, soy protein concentrate, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract etc.

To use the age old cliché, ‘your health is in your hands’. It would be prudent to avoid as much processed packaged foods as possible. Stick to foods having no more than five ingredients and absolutely no ‘chemist’ jargon. Make foods ahead of time so that you don’t have to rely on convenience foods. Learn to cook and enjoy pure unadulterated food made from all natural ingredients. Learn to keep yourself and your family healthy.

Good to know
Date of manufacture means the date on which the food becomes the product as described
Date of packaging means the date on which the food product is placed in the immediate container in which it will be ultimately sold
Best Before means the date beyond which the food may be safe for consumption, but its quality may have diminished
Use – by date or Recommended last consumption date or  Expiry date means the date after which product may not remain safe and the food shall not be consumed.
As stated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)
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Know your Oils | Guest Post from HealthLine

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

“Good” Fats, “Bad” Fats: A Dietary Oil Primer

By Leslie Vandever

Dietary fats add deliciousness, richness, and good, healthy nutrition to the foods we love. In the form of oils for cooking or eating, you can count on them to improve and enhance any cuisine.

But there’s far more to oils than meets the eye—and the tastebuds. They have a real drawback: they’re all high in calories (they’re fats, after all). But that means they’re high in energy, too. Used in moderation, with an eye on your waistline, they’re an essential part of a healthy diet.

Dietary oils come from many sources, including plants, nuts, and seeds. Some, like butter and lard, come from animals. Some have more nutritional and health value than others, so it’s important to understand how to best use them, from heating to eating.

Fats from animal sources are, in general, unhealthy. You’ll know them because they’re solid at room temperature. They’re high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol to dangerous levels and puts you at risk for heart disease. Avoid or limit animal fats in your diet.

Avoid trans-fats—or trans-fatty acids—too. These are made when hydrogen is added to plant oils, and they’re double trouble. Labeled as “partially hydrogenated,” they include shortening and some margarines. Not only will they raise your levels of “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol, they lower the levels of “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol clogs arteries; HDL cholesterol helps to remove it from the body.

Plant-based oils on their own are rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. They are the “good,” healthy types of fat, rich in omega-3 fatty acids that neutralize cell-killing free radicals and, scientists believe, may preserve memory and aid thinking abilities later in life. “Good” fats don’t raise blood cholesterol levels. They help the body digest and absorb vitamins, too.

All dietary oils have a “smoke point:” the moment at which the oil gets hot enough to burn and produce smoke. The smoke point varies from oil to oil, but once it starts to burn, not only has the oil lost any nutritional value, it tastes downright awful. In addition, the fumes are toxic and release free radicals into the air.

Monounsaturated Oils

  • almond oil has a nutty flavor and high smoke point. It’s best for searing, browning, and deep frying.
  • canola (rapeseed) oil has no flavor, a medium high smoke point, and can be used for frying, browning, searing, in dressings, and in some baked goods.
  • peanut oil has a medium-high smoke point. Its mild, nutty flavor makes it great for stir-frying.
  • safflower oil has a high smoke point, no flavor, and it’s good for searing, browning, frying, and in dressings.
  • sesame oil has a medium smoke point and a rich, nutty flavor. It’s best for light sautéing.
  • sunflower oil has a high smoke point, making it good for frying, browning, and searing. (Look for the high-oleic acid type, which is higher in monounsaturated fat than the others.) Its flavor is neutral.
  • “light” olive/refined olive/extra-virgin olive oil has a high smoke point, so it’s good for frying, sautéing, browning, and searing. The distinctive flavor is excellent in Italian and other Mediterranean foods.

Polyunsaturated Oils

  • soybean oil has a medium smoke point. It’s high in omega-6 fatty acids and works well for frying, sautéing, and browning. It’s also great for salad dressings.
  • corn oil has a medium smoke point, little flavor, is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, and works well for frying, grilling, and baking.
  • grapeseed oil has a medium-high smoke point, a neutral flavor, and is also rich in omega-6s. Along with using it for frying and baking, it’s delicious drizzled on crusty bread and in dressings.

Finally, a word about ghee: a traditional staple in Indian cuisine, ghee is made from the fats in whole milk and is rich in saturated fat, which has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease. The research on ghee’s health benefits is limited, but some researchers assert that if eaten as less than 10 percent of a day’s total calories, ghee may actually lower cardiovascular risks. Use it in moderation.

LeslieVandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California where she writes for Healthline.

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Pasta Aglio e Olio | Healthy and quick recipe


Pasta Aglio e olio


The simplest pasta recipe ever. Pasta Aglio e olio – simply means pasta with garlic and olive oil. Mayuresh needed a quick fix lunch, and I had very little quick ingredients on hand - so this pasta is what he got in his lunch box today. Pasta aglio e olio is traditionally made with spaghetti. But I did not have any spaghetti in the pantry today, plus spaghetti does not keep too well in a lunch box. The fusilli came to my rescue and I quickly tossed it with some extra virgin olive oil, crushed and chopped garlic and chilli flakes. That was it! Lunch, ready! 

You will need -

1/2 cup pasta (ideally spaghetti)

6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 table spoon and a bit more to drizzle on top extra virgin olive oil

a little parsley to garnish (I used the one from my pot of herbs, yay!)


- Boil a pot of water and add a couple of teaspoons salt to it. Once the water is boiling, add in the pasta and cook al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water and drain off the rest.

- Warm the extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and chilli flakes to it. Then add the pasta water and mix. Toss in the pasta, give a quick mix. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve. 





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My article in India today, simply pune | Months old, but forgot to share


All people living in Pune, please give these places a try. You will love them. Read the full article here!

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Are all soy products healthy?


Reposting a really old post from this blog as I think this information needs to reach more people. Grammar nazis to please ignore the typos and the errors (I was a blogging infant back then!). I will update/correct this post soon. Promise!

Originally posted on Healthy Feasts:

While soya bean was hailed as the wonder food in the 20th century, today we often see a lot of not so healthy foods which have been made using soy or its derivatives as one of their ingredients. A few days back, with the all the festive fever, I saw a lady on TV showing a black forest cake recipe. Everything was fine till the time she made the cake (although I did not quite agree with the amount of butter and full fat cream that she put in, but well..!). Trouble peeped in when she began icing the cake, the ingredients (obviously!) were whipping cream and icing sugar. To quote her ‘Don’t worry! This whipping cream is not fattening, its made of soy.‘ Thats when I started fuming!

Having heard that on regional TV, I did a small experiment. I asked some 15 people (of course…

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Mango Cream | Super quick dessert

Mango Cream - Inspired by the dish of the same name at Mapro Gardens, Mahabaleshwar

Mango Cream – Inspired by the dish of the same name at Mapro Gardens, Mahabaleshwar

Every summer I resolve to make at least one mango based dessert or dish but all the mangoes get gobbled up as soon as they are ripe. The same was about to happen this year- the mango season is almost over and all I had done was eat 3-4 mangoes every day. :) A few days back, I had made chicken stroganoff for dinner which was downed with a lot of flourish but I felt like something was missing. I asked M whether he wanted a simple quick mango dessert and the reply was obvious. So this mango cream is what I made and it was well worth the little effort as the glee on the faces of the boys (M and R) and the response on facebook was something worth seeing!

You will need:

2 ripe alphonso mangoes, diced small
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 tsp sugar


- Chop the mangoes into small dice. Whip the cream with the sugar till soft peaks are formed.
- Put in a couple of spoonfuls of the mangoes into a serving bowl/glass. Next layer with a spoonful of cream. Top with another layer of mangoes, followed by cream. Make as many layers as you want and have the patience for.
- Garnish with a few pieces of mango and some sweet basil.

A delightfully easy and yummy summer dessert is ready!

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The Magic (Musk) Melon

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When you think of a fruit, what comes to your mind first? Apples, oranges, sweet limes and bananas? Or grapes, strawberries and mangoes. But ever thought of figs, watermelon, musk melon? The current trend of buying produce from the supermarket has led to us missing out on a whole host of seasonal, regional fruits which are not only very tasty but easy on the pocket too. One such wonder-fruit is a musk melon. Musk melon (also known as Cantaloupe, Kharbooja) belongs to the cucurbit family which also includes cucumbers, gourds, melons, pumpkins and squashes. A musk melon could be white or pale yellow on the outside and may or may not have longitudinal green ridges. It is characterized by a thick outer skin and a soft, fleshy, interior. Musk melon seeds are also edible and find vast use in Indian traditional cuisine. In India, a variety of musk melons are available in the local markets in the summer months of April to July. One also finds them in the supermarkets, but call it my skepticism, I have always found fruits bought from the local fruit vendor to be tastier than the ones from the mall. It could also be because of the facts that the malls store melons in air-conditioned rooms whereas a melon needs to be kept at room temperature to ripen. A good ripe musk melon will not have any bruises on the skin, will emanate a sweet smell and when softly tapped on the outside will have a hollow thud.

This fruit is perfect for an afternoon or even midnight snack as it is very low in calories plus full of vital nutrients and has plenty fibre and water- which implies lesser hunger pangs. Compared to an apple, a musk melon is a much superior source of vitamins C and A as well as the mineral potassium- all of which have antioxidant properties and boost immunity. Potassium in particular helps regulate blood pressure. This fruit is also loaded with the benefits of B complex vitamins which protect the body against illness and help keep all organs healthy. The fruit and its edible seeds are a great source of dietary fibre which implies no constipation and elimination of toxins in the body. Melon seeds are also a source of a type of omega-3 fatty acid which are very good for your heart.

As a kid I used to refuse to eat musk melons as I did not like that musky odor. My mum then used to sprinkle a little bit of powdered sugar and cardamom powder on it, which would prompt me to finish off an entire bowlful of it. These days we add it to a fruit salad or a summer salad along with pomegranates with a very light dressing. Musk melon and water melon scoops on skewers also make for an attractive amuse bouche. Kids may also like melon juice made into popsicles- a great summer treat. Melon seeds on the other hand are excellent in baking, for thickening gravies or as part of granola. In fact in India, dried toasted melon seeds have often been used in mukhwaas or mouth fresheners along with spices and other nuts.

And the most important benefit of melons (of all kinds including watermelons) is that their increased consumption gives you a glowing radiant skin even in the dry dull summers. The high water content and skin friendly vitamins in it ensure that your skin looks visibly fresh and radiant. This I can vouch for as the women in my family (including my mum and granny) used to always eat tons of this fruit and then rub the inside of the skin on their face and voila, an easy natural melon face pack done!

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